Most would’ve taken it going into the game, but plenty of Reds will surely feel underwhelmed by Sunday’s draw at our likeliest competitors for this season’s title. We may have been let off by Kevin De Bruyne dragging his first half penalty wide, but the feeling of a lost opportunity will still linger – especially after Mohamed Salah had the visitors in front early on. Diogo Jota and Roberto Firmino producing little from good chances will also have left many wondering what could have been.
However, the fact of the matter is that Liverpool avoided defeat at a ground where they’ve faced little else in recent times. That historic 2-1 win in the 2018 Champions League aside, our recent record at the Etihad makes for painful viewing.
As humiliating as last season’s 4-0 loss at the Etihad was, it was hardly the worst of the lot. Some of us are still scarred by the 5-0 drubbing early in the 2017-18 season, when Sadio Mane’s dismissal set us on course for disaster. And sandwiched in between those two demolition jobs was arguably, and ironically, the most painful Etihad visit of them all: the 2-1 loss in the first game of 2019.
It’s funny, because Liverpool matched City brilliantly on the day, producing a football spectacle celebrated by the neutrals. It was quite objectively one of the highest quality English football matches played in the last few years, with the Reds bagging one of the team goals of the season. Unfortunately, the title ramifications of our narrow defeat that day mean that everyone associated with Liverpool Football Club looks back on that match with bitter regret. Leroy Sane’s winner cut Liverpool’s lead at the top to four points, when an away win would’ve extended it to a possibly insurmountable 10.
The psychological damage that that match inflicted on the Reds was palpable; A game that could have practically crowned them Champions-Elect instead rendered them vulnerable in the event of even the slightest slip-up. And as we all know, said slip-ups did occur, including stalemates at Goodison and Old Trafford, most notably. The rest is regrettable history.
Even more detrimental to our cause than the points we so regularly drop at the Etihad is probably the inferiority complex that develops from the defeats. Our record at Anfield against them may trump their home record against us, but every negative result away to City in the past has created a sense of helplessness and often had us feeling like the underdogs, whether or not that inferiority complex was actually based in fact.
Had Liverpool lost on Sunday, City would have been in a position to leapfrog us after their game in hand. Allowing them into the driver’s seat this early in the campaign would have altered the complexion of the title race entirely – both mathematically and psychologically. Instead, the Reds have cleared the hardest game of the season unscathed with a lead over their title rivals still intact. This season’s race won’t be the cakewalk that last season’s was, but the chance for Liverpool to retain the trophy is certainly there.